wotr_logo.jpg (2835 bytes)

An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 7: Henry of Bolingbroke rebels


Henry lands at Ravenspur

Once the shock of these developements had subsided,  Henry decided that he was released from all his vows of alliegence to King Richard II, and that he had nothing to lose by a rebellion. The people of England, now afraid of their King, took Henry's treatment as a sign that King Richard II's tyrany had reached such a stage that no man, and no man's property,  was safe. They had good reason for this belief on other more personal grounds. The general pardon, except for the secret list of 50 names, was in February 1399 declared to be valid only till the following Martinmas. The country was seething with discontent and was ripe for a desparate step, and there was widespread sympathy for Henry, in whose predicament men could see a foretaste of their own. Henry himself found a useful ally. Thomas Arundel, who had been deprived of the Archbishopric of Canterbury and exiled himself in 1397, had gone to Rome to seek the intercession of the Pope. The Pope had written to Richard on his behalf, and had received an insulting reply. Thomas Arundel joined forces with Henry and the two plotted rebellion. A constant stream of refugees reached Henry, and, in spite of all that Richard could do to prevent it, some vigourous correspondence took place with such prominent persons as William of Wykeham, the Bishop of Winchester, [the founder of Winchester College] and John Beaufort, Marquis of Dorset. Possibly also the Percys and Richard's current favourite, Edward Plantagenet, the Duke of Aumerle, joined in. Certainly the old retainers of the House of Lancaster urged Henry to action. Fiercely loyal to the House of Lancaster and bitterly resentful of their new masters, they joined with those who were prepared to risk everything, even life itself and the lives of their families, to get rid of King Richard II.

Richard chose this moment to go on an expedition to Ireland. Who made ships available to Henry is not known, although the Duke of Orleans may have had a hand in providing them. In July 1399, Henry of Bolingbroke landed with his small force of 300 men at Ravenspur in Yorkshire. There was a purpose to this. Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who was left in charge of England during Richard's absense in Ireland, believed that Henry would invade the South with a considerable force, and concentrated what troops he could gather there. This belief seems to have been shared by the King's favourites, among them Lescrope, Bushey, Bagot and Green, some of the most hated men in England, who remained in London with him. It was a singularly naive belief that the Ravenspur landing was no more than a feint to draw their forces north. For one thing, from where was Henry of Bolingbroke to get a large force to pounce on the South of England? Only the French could have supplied it, and they must have realised that King Charles VI had no interest in doing so. Moreover, Henry had landed in a part of the country from where the old Lancastrian estates lay within easy marches. Their loyal retainers flocked to his banner, and in a short while he had a considerable army. It is true that Henry gave out that he was only returning to recover his own confiscated property, and here the wise counsel of Thomas Arundel can be detected, but Henry must have learnt from previous experience that such a rebellion could never be undertaken for limited purposes only. He did nothing to quench the ardour of his followers for the removal of a hated government, and allowed himself to be carried along on the popular tide which required the removal of King Richard II and his detested favourites. It is possible that the Duke of York, even though he was politically inept, understood that Henry, and Henry alone, was the one person who could achieve political reform, and this may explain why he did little or nothing to nip the rebellion in the bud whilst he still had the power to do so. Instead, when the time was ripe, he went over to Henry's side. The adherence of the sole surviving son of King Edward II1 was a valuable reinforcement. So strongly did opinion run against King Richard II that John Beaufort, Marquis of Dorset, who was identified as one of Richard's favourites in the popular mind, only narrowly escaped execution at the hands of the Earl of Northumberland. Henry of Bolingbroke produced the Marquis's letters, written to him whilst he was still in France, which showed which side he had been on. The Earl's fury was turned instead on Lescrope, Bushey and Green (Bagot by this time was safe in Ireland), and they paid with their heads for the popular loathing in which they were held.

King Richard II a prisoner

Fortune does favour the brave. The kindly weather which had brought Henry to Ravenspur turned into a gale which held Richard stormbound in Ireland. Even when it abated, his preparations for returning to England were leisurely when time was everything. When he eventually landed in Wales, he found to his chagrin that he could not raise any force. He took refuge in Conway Castle and sent his half-brother and his nephew, John and Thomas Holland, the Dukes of Exeter and Surrey, to discuss terms with Henry. They were promptly thrown into prison. This treatment of envoys, whose persons were normally regarded as sancrosanct, showed how strong Henry now felt himself to be. His own envoys, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and Thomas Arundel tempted Richard out of Conway Castle with terms so reasonable that anyone else who did not share Richard's unbounded belief in his own sanctity would have regarded them as suspect in the extreme. It would also have occured to almost anybody else that Arundel, who was still under sentence of exile, and therefore liable to severe penalties if he set foot in England, was surprisingly confident to enter the King's presence and power. Richard rode straight into an ambush which Northumberland had set up a short distance outside the Castle. He was now Henry's prisoner, and it was rapidly made clear that he was going to remain so.

For the moment.Richard was treated with the deference due to the King. He dined in customary state with the great Lords waiting on him as was their duty. His optimism and confidence began to rise in the way that is usual in mercurial temprements such as his. After all, had not Northumberland, and Thomas Arundel sworn on the Host in Conway Castle that he would remain King? Had not they done this with the full authority of Henry of Bolingbroke? He had bided his time before, and had triumphed to punish presumptuous wrongdoers in the fullness of time. It could all be done again. Patience was all that was needed, patience and skill to exercise the rights of the King and thus confound his enemies. It was in a confident and contented frame of mind that he rode with Northumberland and Arundel to Flint Castle where the meeting with Henry of Bolingbroke was due to take place.

When Richard saw the approach of Henry's army, with the sun glinting on armour and weapons, and could count the many banners of Lords both great and small that accompanied him, its very size and imposing array thrust him into the depths of dispair. This was no small band of malcontents to be cajoled and played with; this was a sizeable part of the Nation's military force, assembled and commanded by most of the great Lords of the Kingdom. His discomforture was added to when, before the meeting with Henry, angry soldiers burst into his presence and demanded the immediate death of his friends. It is uncertain if this was stage-managed, or if Henry even knew about it beforehand, but before they were hustled out by curses, kicks, snarls and blows from their officers, they had severely shaken the King and his friends, and got them into a receptive frame of mind for the meeting with Henry. This took place shortly afterwards, and whilst Henry was courteous and quiet voiced, he made it clear in polite terms what the soldiers had conveyed in their rude and unmannerly way; the days of Richard as King were numbered, and it was improbable that the fate of his friends would be a pleasant one. Only to John Montacute, Earl of Salisbury was Henry threatening, reminding the Earl how he had humiliated him during his exile if France.

The journey to London was not without event. Richard was disguised as a friar and mounted on a small pony to disguise him from those who would either rescue him or lynch him. An attempt at escape was foiled by the alertness of the close guard kept on him. There were some attempts to rescue him, but these were beaten off without difficulty. A deputation of Aldermen from London met the army, and demanded that Richard should be put to death at once. Henry refused to allow this, explaining that Richard's fate would be decided by Parliament when it met. So unpopular was Richard, that Henry could only breath safely when Richard was lodged in the Tower. Only then could he take the necessary steps to deal with Richard once and for all in peace and quiet by lawful means far from the reach of the mob, who would have torn him limb from limb. Henry of Bolingbroke would have been much quieter in his mind if he had had any idea how this was to be achieved.

Many books have been writen about King Richard II, and the reader who desires to study his reign in greater detail should refer to them. The purpose of this account is to present an outline of the reign in order to demonstrate that, among the many causes of the Wars of the Roses, two failures of Kingship, those of Kings Richard II and Henry VI, were among the most immediate. Had Richard chosen to change his ways, even as late as 1398, and rule his Kingdom wisely, justly and well, he could have reigned until his life's end, and in due course have been succeeded by his own heir. He had had his chances to change the style of his rule; had he taken them, there would have been no call for the House of Lancaster ever to ascend the Throne. As it was however, the first die was cast.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003